By Andrew Ross
The Calgary International Film Festival has a hometown entry in the form of Gary Burns and he steals the show. In his new film waydowntown, the Calgary filmmaker surpasses even the masterful work of Danny Boyle, whose surreal 1996 dramatic comedy, Trainspotting, earned him accolades and critical acclaim worldwide.
However, surreal only begins to describe waydowntown. The entire film takes place in the course of a single lunch hour, which is a difficult thing to do in a 90-minute film.
Todd, the main character, and his friends Sandra, Curt and Randy are all downtown yuppies working at the firm Mather, Mather & Mather. The four of them have made a $10,000 bet: whoever can stay indoors longest wins. They can do this because they all live downtown and can get everywhere via the +15 network.
The film begins 30 days after the bet started, and the strain of being indoors for a month is starting to show. The characters develop nervous tics and delusion is rampant. The film type changes from shot to shot, and the characters’ clothing changes colour for no apparent reason. Oh, and there’s the recurring image of an office worker falling from a building, and there’s the catfish–don’t ask.
Apart from the surreal elements, the film is also full of great acting, great writing and great cinematography. It is at once hilarious and serious–the way Ally McBeal tries to be, but never is–and thoroughly entertaining. The movie is completely set and filmed in pre-cow downtown Calgary, and it shows; if you don’t see at least one place you’ve been to, then you’ve never been downtown.
Do not, however, dismiss waydowntown as light entertainment; this film has a message and speaks to the modern urban condition. In a moment of lucid insight, Todd comments on how parents should be worrying about their children being desensitized to the word "hello" rather than to sex, drugs and violence. The film speaks volumes, conveys its message clearly and yet it does not seem contrived–although it comments on how contrived it is.
There are many threads in this cinematic opus and yet they are all skillfully woven together to create a motion picture which is genuine, entertaining, thought-provoking and original. This masterwork is among the best around, and is living proof that independent film is well worth hunting for.